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Presentation Tips

  • Designing Your Own Poster Presentation
  • Designing Your Own Slides
  • Giving Oral Presentations
  • Answering Questions and Interacting with the Public
  • The tips here are suggestions, based on many years of experience. I'm sure there are particular circumstances in which it would be completely appropriate to violate each of these suggestions. Similarly, this list is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather to highlight some of the more commonly seen mistakes. Most of the time, these tips should work to get you off to a very good start.

    The most important thing to remember for any tipe of presentation is to work up your confidence. Once you have completed enough research to put together a presentation, and spent the time to do so, you are most likely the most knowledgeable person in the room about this particular topic. Even if your presentation will be given to a teacher, to professionals in the discipline, or to other experts, you will have just put in a lot of time on a very specific aspect, and are probably highly qualified to tell anyone about it. Of course you will want to check your facts and make sure your organization is clear. But be confident that you know what you're talking about.

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    Designing Your Own Poster Presentation

    Posters can be organized in a variety of ways. It often works best to focus first on designing each element of the poster, and then arrange the objects into a whole display.

    If you have access to a large format printer, you can tell PowerPoint to make a single slide the size you want your finished poster to be. This can be used to create a very professional looking poster. Place each object and text section on the large poster. You can put a background on the whole thing as long as it is very subtle, or you can leave it white. Do not try to use light text on a black background, because using that much ink over that much space will make the poster paper look less appealing. As you lay out the elements of your poster, consider symmetry, adequate margins and white space, and visually appealing fonts and color schemes.

    However, if you don't have access to a large format printer and do not want to pay to have your document printed on one at a photocopy store (it can be quite expensive, but this service is often available at places like Kinkos, Staples, Office Depot, Office Max, or a local equivalent), you can create a very attractive and professional looking panneled poster. Simply print each section of text and each figure on a separate piece of regular paper (usually black ink on white or very light colored paper). Trim the paper so there are 1/4-inch or 1/2-inch margins around the actual printed paragraph or object. Cut dark colored poster board so that it is 1/2-inch or 1-inch or 1 1/2-inches bigger on EACH side than each piece of trimmed paper. Using a glue stick, carefully cover the edges of the paper and put some glue on the interior as well, and post it to the board. Then you can arrange the different boards in the space you have to display your poster

    Regardless of how you make the poster, the most important thing you can do is consider your reader's point of view. Here are some specifics to consider in your design:

  • What to include: First, figure out what kinds of objects you have available to use. These can include photographs, graphs of data, drawings or schematics, and other visual elements that contribute to your visual presentation. Be sure that each object makes a point and directly contributes to someone's understanding of your topic. Once you have your objects, you can write text that complements the information in the object. Introduce, explain, summarize and expand on the information in the objects, but as much as possible, rest the poster on the more visual elements. Overall, try to use objects as much as you can, and use as little text as possible without compromising the information content of your poster.

  • Objects: When designing graphs or drawings, use colors that complement your font colors. Photographs often look nice with a border in a color that complements the photo as well as the color scheme of your poster. Be sure that photos are not too cluttered, but clearly show the point you are using them to make. While you want to maximize the use of objects, each should contribute materially to the understanding of the material.
  • Font size: Be sure to use a large enough font that people do not have to stand too close to read your poster. It will be more visually appealing, and will allow several people to read at the same time without getting into each other's way. Generally, main titles should be at least 48 pt, section titles at least 30 pt, body text at least 24 pt, and title captions, reference lists and other subsidiary information can be as small as 18 pt. These are suggested minimums. Feel free to go larger to make it even easier on people's eyes. The width of text blocks should be small enough that readers don't have to move from side to side to read a particular section.
  • Font colors: Use bright or dark colors that contrast well with the background. If you use multiple colors, do so in an organized way, like use a different color for titles than for body text. Use colors that complement each other, saving one or two contrasting colors for objects or text that you want to really stand out.
  • Organization of text: This often varies by discipline and purpose, but there are several sections that are important for any presentation. You will need to include a title including author, an introduction, figure captions for each object briefly explaining the point of each object, conclusions that not only summarize but also expand on the importance of your topic, and a list of sources and references. There will often be other sections as well, but again this depends on the type of presentation and topic.

  • Putting it all together: Once you have the individual objects and text blocks created, you will need to organize them on the poster sheet or organize the different elements when you display them. The most important factor in deciding what goes where is the logical flow of the information. But visual appeal is also important. In your layout, consider symmetry, alternating between text and objects in an attractive way, leaving plenty of white space and margins between sections and objects, and using all the space you are allocated. Keep the most important points or elements at eye level. The title should go at the top or all the way to the left.
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    Designing Your Own Slides

    This applies to any presentation format where an oral presnetation will be given using a sequence of visual aids. The most common type is currently using a computer and projector with PowerPoint slides, but film slides, overhead transparencies and even a sequence of boards or pages would adhere to these same basic principles.

    Many of the principles suggested for posters also apply to slides: use as many figures, graphs, drawings and photographs as you can as long as they are truly appropriate; use large fonts; choose your color scheme deliberately; include a title slide, an introduction, and a conclusion that expands on your topic; carefully consider the most logical flow of information.

    There are, of course, some additional tips specifically for slides:

  • Separating slides: Do not put too much information or text on one slide. Give each slide a title that accurately describes in just a couple of words the purpose of that slide. Then keep the slide under control. Using large fonts is the first step, but the same applies to not using too many objects on each slide. If a slide looks like it is getting too crowded, split it into two. You can either make the titles more specific or use the same title on sequential slides.

  • Slides as outline: Don't feel like you need to put every detail on your slides. The slides should not contain everything that you plan to say during an oral presentation. Rather, they should provide an outline. You can use them to remind yourself where you are in your talk, if you get off on a tangent or forget what comes next. Your audience can use them as reinforcement of the most important points of the talk. If you put too much information on the slides, the audience will spend the time reading instead of listening. And to the extent that they do both read and hear, they will be frustrated that it is so repetative. So just put the highlights in text. These should often be bulleted (or numbered if the order is critical to the message) for clarity.

  • Object slides: Regardless of what is on a particular slide, whether it is a photograph, a presentation of data like a graph or chart, or another type of visual object, it is usually a good idea to put a title on the slide. Its also helpful to put a short description of what the main point is of showing this object, kind of like a figure caption. If the figure is very complex, you may want to have a bulleted list showing several points; otherwise a single sentence will do. If the main points are very obvious, this might not be necessary.

  • Superfluous objects: Don't include them. It's as simple as that. For example, don't use clip art unless it actually contributes an important point to your presentation. Don't clutter your slides with dots, stars, or other objects that don't contribute to the message of your talk. Photographs are great, but again they should show something important about your message.

  • Animation: A presentation can flow much more smoothly if you bring in key points on a single slide one at a time, or have small figures appear after the point that refers to them. However, just like clip art, animation should not be used unless you have a clear idea of how or why it will improve the ability of the audience to follow your train of thought and understand the material you are presenting. It is rarely useful, for example, to have each letter of a section "fly in" independently of each other. It takes too long and the audience becomes bored before the whole phrase is up. Timed animations can work well for some things, but it is usually better to have the animations appear when you click the mouse, so you can control the timing as you go. If you don't know how to use animations and don't want to take the time to figure it out, there are almost always other ways to achieve flow and clarity. It then becomes even more important not to crowd your slides.
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    Giving Oral Presentations

    Giving oral presentations is often stressful for folks, especially if they haven't done it much before. As I said above, assume that you know more about your topic than anyone else in the room. If not strictly true, it is probably close to the truth, and will help you to be more confident when speaking. Here are some tips to help you get past your nervousness and give a more engaging presentation:

  • Practice: Different people have different needs when it comes to practicing a presentation in advance. Some people prefer not to practice once they have figured out what will be included. Other people want to practice to themselves or in front of a mirror. Others find great benefit from practicing in front of a critical audience. This is the best way to get a good idea of the timing and make sure that you haven't left out anything important.
  • Stumbling: Regardless of how much or how you practice ahead of time, you may come to a point when you get momentarilly lost or lose your train of thought or forget how you wanted to say something. Try to avoid saying "um" or "uh" or other repetitive sounds. It is much better to just pause for a moment. It will seem like a much longer time to you than to your audience, and they will be less distracted by a short silence than a sound that draws their attention to your pause. Sometimes people (especially when nerous) will start every sentence with one of these sounds. That is also very distracting, so if you have a tendency to do that, try to be aware of it during your talk.
  • Tone of your presentation: It can be useful for some people to write out what they plan to say in their talk. It is better not to just read it. Try to memorize the content of your talk, if not the actual language you plan to use. Oral presentations are usually much more dynamic and interesting to listen to if the presenter is talking and not just reading. When possible and appropriate, use professional language but a conversational tone.
  • Referring to slides: Be sure to explain the information and objects on your slides. While it is sometimes necessary, it is not a very interesting presentation to just read what is on your slides. Be sure to elaborate and explain, give examples, go into more detail, etc. This applies to text as well as objects on your slides.
  • KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. It is always best to use as little jargon as you can without compromising clarity, accuracy or flow. At the same time, you should be sure to use the kind of language that will be expected and appropriate to your audience. Do not waste a lot of time defining or explaining terms that everyone in your audience is sure to know. But if you aren't sure whether they will or not, its better to err on the side of clarity and define more than you really need to.
  • Humor: Do what feels right to you and works for you. If you are nervous and you think that interjecting some humor will help to calm you down, feel free to do so as long as it is appropriate to the purpose of your talk and to your audience. For example, you might want to be more cautious at a job interview than a classroom presentation. If you are not a particularly funny person, you may find yourself using some dry humor, but don't try to include humor at a level that does not suit your personality. And if you do plan to use humor at all, ABSOLUTELY be sure that it is not offensive to anyone who might be in the audience, including to their sensibility not just personally. Inappropriate humor is much worse than no humor, even if the latter results in a dry presentation. It's also much better to include humor that relates very directly to your topic, rather than, for example, starting off with a random joke just to break the ice.
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    Answering Questions and Interacting with the Public

    Whether standing by a poster or participating in a more formal question and answer session, for example after giving an oral presentation, many of the tips for giving presentations also apply to answering questions. It bears repeating that the most important thing you can bring to your presentation is confidence. Consider yourself an expert on this topic ... you probably are! Try to avoid stalling sounds, but don't be afraid to pause to formulate your answer if you need to. Answer questions and hold discussions at the level appropriate to your audience. Use humor if and to the degree that you feel comfortable, if it's not offensive and is appropriate to the venue and audience.

    Since there is less opportunity to prepare for specific questions or to practice answering questions, there are some additional things to keep in mind:

  • Don't get defensive. Sometimes it is easy to misinterpret a question as being more of an assault than it is intended to be (and even if it is intended to be a little hostile, you'll certainly earn points with your audience if you can respond calmly). So try to consider the root of the question and answer as calmly, clearly and thoughtfully as you can.
  • Timing: It is sometimes difficult to know how much to say in answer to a question. Try to be breif but thorough, even if that seems a bit contradictory. Say as much as you need to in order to clearly answer the question, but try not to ramble. If they want to know more, they can ask another question or talk to you at a different time.
  • What to do if you don't know the answer:

    This can be a difficult and nerve-wracking experience. First, don't beat yourself up. Then consider these options:

  • Give yourself a moment to think about it. You may know more about it than you initially think you do.
  • Even if you don't know the whole answer, tell the audience or person what you do know that relates (even just a little if necessary) to the question. Sometimes that will help you to think of more directly related answers, or help them to phrase the question in a way that clarifies for you how to answer it.
  • If you think that it is true, don't be afraid to say that you don't know the answer because no one does at this time ... that the answer is currently unknown and would be a great area for someone to study more.
  • If you really can't come up with anything to say that is related to the question, or if the person keeps asking about the same topic and gets beyond your knowledge about it, tell the person that you think it's a really great question and that you would love to discuss it with them. In a group venue like after a talk, you can either address that just to the person asking the question, or to the whole audience. In a one-on-one venue, like at a poster, you can ask the person if they have any thoughts about the answer and have a discussion about it right then.
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    Good Luck! And remember with any presentation, HAVE FUN with it!

    If you have suggestions for tips to add to this page, feel free to contact me at the email address below. I'll give you credit if I decide to add your tip. I'm also open to adding links to other pages that have presentation tips (after checking them out, of course). Feel free to send the the address if you have a page that offers tips.

    Contact information:

    Dr. Becky Presents...
    drbeckypresents.us
    (909)433-9331
    email: Becky@DrBeckyPresents.US

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    Thanks for your consideration,
    Becky Talyn